Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

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By David Bornstein
The Good Word 

The Jewish product


What it means to be a Jew today may be far less significant than the question, “Why be a Jew tomorrow?” My generation, and my parents’, had concrete, fully realized reasons to be Jewish. World War II, the Holocaust, and the drive to survive after a near-extinction event. The birth of the State of Israel and the rise of modern Jewish pride, Jewish heroism, and Jewish hope. Success and acceptance in contemporary Diaspora society, in virtually every aspect of American culture, politics, and business. But today we hit a period of malaise. The sense of obligation borne from the ashes of the Holocaust is disappearing, virtually irrelevant to today’s 30-under Jews who view Hitler as an evil portrayed in history books rather than a recent threat, more akin to Haman than Al Qaeda. Israel is still a drawing card for many, but it has become a lightning rod of controversy as well, and is no longer supported without question by many of today’s Jewish youth. And acceptance in contemporary society has led, as it always does, to complacency and the ultimate disappearing act of assimilation.

As hard as they try, synagogues are struggling to maintain membership and remain relevant to young Jewish adults. I don’t hear about many kids clamoring to go to shul (of course, maybe they never really have). And most of the millennials I talk to don’t feel like they have much reason to belong unless they have children prepping for bar or bat mitzvahs. Jewish institutions and agencies, once the backbone of Jewish communities, are now more often perceived as weak stepchildren with no driving vision for support and little reason to exist. We see it in the struggles of our Jewish agencies to raise philanthropic dollars, in the lack of growth and broad-based community support of the Jewish Academy and the dissolution of Beit Hamidrash, a program for Jewish high schoolers that once attracted more than 200 students every week but is now much reduced in both size and scope (and the Jewish Academy and Beit Hamidrash are not alone. This is a national trend.) 

All of which begs the question, what do we do? What Jewish product do we sell to the next generation, and the next, that has merit? On what do we stake the future of Judaism?

There is no simple answer, no one thing to hang out hats on. Some obvious requirements come to mind—significance, for one. Any product presented to tomorrow’s Jewish population must make sense for their lifestyle and value system. So a thoughtfully presented, clearly communicated value system might also be part of the foundation we “sell.” And God knows, Judaism has a core of values that anyone with a modicum of morality can buy into.

A friend of mine told me that, in her opinion, the new Jewish product must be based on the principles of gratitude, humility, and meaning. Meaning must be on any list, while gratitude and humility are more out of the box thinking. Micah asks, what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? Teaching humility, then, can be an attractive component to a Jewish product, as would be a revitalized emphasis on living justly and acting mercifully. And gratitude for what? To validate the prayers we recite, or to remind us that we recite prayers to focus on the myriad reasons we have to be grateful? Or do we make it a central point to teach our children that gratitude is a key component of life, that nothing should be taken for granted—each breath, each blessing, each boon we receive, ought to be appreciated as if they were the first breath, the only blessing, the greatest boon we ever experienced?

Perhaps the real purpose of this exercise, the real reason to ask what the new Jewish product will be to carry us into a revitalized future, is to help us focus with laser-like accuracy. What three words would you choose? What key values would you emphasize to your children and grandchildren that would make penultimate sense for them? What are the integral components that will connect our past, present, and future? I’m asking you as I’m asking myself, and look forward to exploring this more in subsequent columns.

And that’s the good word.

Send your thoughts, comments, and critiques to the Heritage or email dsb328@gmail.com. 


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